Virtual Servers - Best Practices for Your Business - Orlando's Best IT Support and Managed Services Provider

Virtual Servers – Best Practices for Your Business

Posted by Timothy Platt on Mar 20, 2017

Virtual Servers – Best Practices for Your Business

Today, we’ll talk a bit about best practices for virtualizing your servers. “Virtual” is an abstract concept – so we’ll provide a laymen’s explanation, and then we’ll focus on the benefits. This explanation is targeted to business owners and decision makers, not technical personnel.

Firstly, why would we do this? Virtual servers are highly recommended over purely physical servers – because they offer reliability, flexibility, and scalability that is difficult to match in a purely physical server environment. They also offer clustering and failover options that aren’t feasible otherwise. Lastly, they are much easier to manage, which results in less time spent fussing over servers. First, a little history…

The Drawbacks of Physical Servers

Before the widespread availability of virtual server technology, nearly every server was purely physical. If you needed a file server, domain controller, or web server, you simply purchased a rack mounted server, installed an Operating System (OS), and installed your application. This all worked fine, until there was a problem or issue. Some shortcomings of this approach:

We can eliminate every one of these disadvantages by leveraging server virtualization.

What is Virtualization?

In a nutshell, virtualization lets you disassociate the server from the hardware it’s running on. Virtualization utilizes special software known as a hypervisor to provide a virtual, generic, hardware image to the server operating system (OS). The OS (and the applications installed on top of it) will run happily, believing they are running directly on some hardware. But they are not. What’s more, you can host multiple virtual servers on one piece of physical hardware. They can share that expensive RAM, CPU, and disk. Lastly, virtual servers end up being just a big file on a hard disk somewhere. So, you get all the benefits (and ease) of working with files – you can snapshot them, clone them, and backup and restore them easily. Popular server virtualization technologies include VMWare, Hyper-V, and Xen.

Virtualization applies on the desktop as well – Mac users can use Parallels, VMWare Fusion, or VirtualBox to run a Windows desktop, on their Mac. This is just one example, there are many others. We’re going to stay focused on servers here.

What does a typical virtual server cluster consist of? At a minimum, it’s two rack mounted servers, which provide the CPU and RAM. Both those servers will run VMWare or another hypervisor. You’ll also need some high performance, shared disk storage (SAN or NAS) that can be accessed equally by either server. It’s possible to skip the shared storage, but then you lose much of the benefits of virtualization. We’ll explain more below.

Virtualization to the Rescue

OK, so virtualization is the answer. But just how does the VM cluster eliminate those disadvantages? We’ll address each one in turn:

We didn’t really address the flexibility in the list above, so we’ll do that now. With virtualization, you can bring up a new server in minutes. Compare that to days or weeks to order, ship, install, and configure new hardware. When it’s that easy, you avoid having servers running multiple applications. The spaghetti mess of intertwined dependencies never gets a foothold. Additionally, you can resize machines with a simple restart – more or less RAM or CPU? Piece of cake.

A Few Closing Thoughts…

OK, just two more comments. With your VM cluster, you’re going to need bigger servers than you would order on average – lots of CPU cores, and lots of RAM. This is because you may have the equivalent of 15 or 20 physical servers running across those 2 Hypervisor nodes. So they’ll be more expensive, but there’s going to be a lot less of them. Less depreciating capital assets is a good idea, for any business. Secondly, that shared storage (SAN or NAS) – it’s got to be high speed and ultra-reliable. If that storage is slow – all 20 servers are slow. If that storage is down – all 20 servers are down. Obviously two higher powered servers and high performance, ultra-reliable storage is going to cost more. But the virtualization advantages in reliability, flexibility, and performance will make it worth it.

Get Help from the Server Support Experts

We hope this information has been helpful. Your situation and unique requirements will need specific assessment. And remember, we’re here to help. If you’ve got a server related challenge – whether onsite or in the cloud, reach out to us – we’d love to help.

Contact VO for server support help now

IT Support by Virtual Operations

Virtual Operations provides IT support for small businesses in the Orlando and Central Florida area. Our managed IT services offering provides the expertise and quality care your small business needs. Please contact us today to find out how we can help with your computer support and network support needs.

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